Previous COVID-19 and food systems in the Indo-Pacific

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health and economic crisis that will disrupt lives and livelihoods of diverse communities around the world for years to come. This includes almost 500 million smallholder farmers who produce food for half of the global population, many of whom are among the 2.7 billion people globally living on less than US$2 per day.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) was mandated, as set out in the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research Act 1982, to work with partners across the Indo-Pacific region to generate the knowledge and technologies that underpin improvements in agricultural productivity, sustainability and food system resilience. We do this by funding, brokering and managing research partnerships for the benefit of partner countries and Australia.

As with many other sectors and organisations, the pandemic is likely to change both what we seek to do and how we do it. ACIAR, like many of our partners, faces important decisions about how best to respond in the coming years. As an evidence-based organisation, one of our responses has been to assess the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the responses to it, on smallholders and food systems in our region. We are doing this so that we and our partners can better understand intervention opportunities and priorities.

In May 2020, we published a rapid assessment that had been conducted over the preceding few weeks. That report provided the foundation for the more systematic, integrated assessment presented here, focusing on impacts and response options in Pacific island countries, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Indonesia and the Philippines. This work was led by a joint team from the Australian National University and the CSIRO, who worked closely with people and partner agencies in focus countries. Applying a common analytical framework across diverse geographies provides insights into the multiple impacts on food systems of COVID-19, while revealing common issues and options across the region.

While the global health crisis caused by the pandemic has yet to precipitate a global food crisis, food systems are under significant pressure, often amplifying existing problems and weaknesses.

This analysis of COVID-19 impacts on food systems across a sample of ACIAR partner countries is a sobering reminder of the very human implications of this tragedy in the immediate and long term. However, it also spotlights many opportunities for governments, communities and private sector organisations throughout the food value chains to help build more effective, resilient and sustainable food systems.

At ACIAR we are deeply committed to playing our part on behalf of Australia and we are actively considering how best to do so in a COVID and post-COVID world. This timely report will help us, and will hopefully be of interest to our many partners across the region.

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Andrew Campbell
Chief Executive Officer, ACIAR, October 2020

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